Do Procedurally-Generated Game Worlds Lack Soul?

When game worlds get yuge, it’s easy to get lost.

Say the words “procedurally generated” and titles such as SpelunkyEnter the Gungeon, and No Man’s Sky will likely pop into mind. The worlds inside these games are largely unpredictable. They contain a random selection of maps, levels or characters, and can complement non-linear gameplay rather well.

The word ‘soul’ is probably a bit more difficult to define. It can refer to the spiritual part of a human being and/or animal — an intangible concept that often carries religious connotations — but its more secular usage implies the essence or embodiment of something. Take ‘soul’ music for example. Wikipedia describes it as a term used by African-American performers to capture “the feeling of being an African-American in the United States”.

Now that we’ve set the table, it’s time to ask the next question: what is the essence of video games? Ok, I agree, that’s something you could dedicate a whole thesis to. But as Falcon points out, immersion is probably one of the biggest factors. It’s also been called ‘flow’ by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. So, do procedurally generated games lack this so called flow, soul, or feeling? Is the promise of increased replay value sometimes just not good enough to ensure we’ll have a fun time? Let’s find out.